While, climate change may not have been on the forefront of student’s minds this finals season BananaFest and an unsuspecting Business Law assignment brought climate issues to campus. Conversations about the COP 21 in Paris this December were fairly limited on campus, aside from responses to social media posts by the student delegation to the conference. However, on Friday, December 11th at the Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity house, sophomore Aidan Williams hosted BananaFest an event in honor of the delicious fruit. The event featured loaves and loaves of banana bread and was crowded with around fifty students, including graduate students and a professor. Aidan was inspired to host the event after being told by his Food, Health, and Society professor, Dr. Cassandra Quave, that he should enjoy his bananas while he could. Dr. Quave presented a mini-lecture at 12 Eagle Row Friday night informing the eager crowd of students about the risks to their beloved fruit. The current breed of bananas is in danger from panama disease that is quickly spreading across the tropics. A lack of bio-diversity of banana crops and climate change will exasperate the situation. The event was well received with over 40 posts on the BananaFest Facebook page and non-stop student questions during the Dr. Quave’s lecture.
Another climate change centric actively I encountered on campus during the first 12 days of December was an assignment to develop a sustainable business for my Business Law course. The Legal Environment of Business course at Goizueta is a core requirement taking by all students, usually in their senior year. The class is taught by Professor Allison Burdette and is beloved by many students, although not during exam season. Burdette worked as an environmental lawyer before teaching. The final assignment aims for students to apply the different legal structures of business organizations to setting up a sustainable business. While, the focus may not have been solely on sustainability, the assignment and additional coursework on environmental law pushes every business student to consider these issues and the capability of businesses to address climate issues before leaving Emory and entering the professional world.
Emory students may not be locked in their dorms attempting to solve climate change or studying every word of the Paris agreement, however there were some promising efforts to raise climate consciousness on campus in the last couple of weeks of this semester. I am excited to see the impact of the delegation in their attempts to bring back the conference next semester.
“It’s them who know better how to take care of the forest, those who live there. We put the man (sic) at the center of production…Now when they walk in the forest, they see barriers.”
Coralie Nicopas, a representative of French Guiana’s Parc Naturel Régional about an alternative set of parks set aside by and for the indigenous people of French Guiana as an alternative to the national park model imposed by France that has had various adverse effects on the people living in the forests. He told me about how the French model causes indigenous people to lose their land, seek alternative work in the cities, lose their indigenous skills and has led to problems with alcoholism and youth suicidality.
He is at work developing a network of natural regional parks that are owned and run by the indigenous people who inhabit them, who collectively make decisions about where, when and how to farm, fish and collect.
“I’m a Minnesotan. I currently work at the University of Minnesota at the Institute on the Environment. I also serve as a citizen member of Minnesota’s Environmental Quality Board which is an executive branch board of 9 state agency commissioners and 5 citizen members. I’m here at the COP as an eye-witness to a really historic moment in the world in terms of dealing with the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced and the biggest opportunity to show what is best about people. I’m also working on a dissertation about how we transition to sustainability and the different approaches and work that needs to be done to do that. I was actually in Copenhagen for COP15 and the feeling in Paris is different. There is more energy outside of and inside of the COP and I think the idea that everyone has something to contribute not everyone has something to take is a really powerful one and I that shift is something that I’m starting to feel in Paris.”
-Kate Knuth, PhD Candidate at the University of Minnesota and Former Representative in the Minnesota House (one of the youngest in it’s history)
“I’m here with Zambia. I’m here with Plant for the Planet Foundation delegation. We’re here at COP to support and encourage the negotiators. We’re the ones who are giving away the awesome chocolates if you had them. We make sure you stay motivated in the negotiations so that you fight for the future of young people. That’s why were here at COP21 to ensure that we get results and have a long term climate agreement and get on the path to save the world.”
“What I really want to say to the youth around the world is that you are our hope for the future. We have messed up the planet and its not your responsibility to fix it, but if you don’t, with us helping, then your great grandchildren will have a pretty bad time. The main thing is to get involved, to realize most importantly that every single day you live you make an impact on this planet and its up to you to choose what sort of impact you want to make. Think about the consequences of what you buy, what you eat, what you wear, or where it came from, how it was made, and then make a wise choice. Billions of wise choices make a better world.”
-Dr. Jane Goodall, Anthropologist, world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees, and founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and global environmental and humanitarian youth program Roots & Shoots
“I’m at the COP because I have three film projects that I am screening, two of them with Jane (Goodall). One is Stop the Burning, which is this 9-minute clip on the fact that deforestation is alive and well and we’ve got to stop it cold. The second is Time to Choose which is a 90-minute full feature film about climate change and solutions. The third is two of episodes of Years of Living Dangerously with Arnold Schwarzenegger and a lot of other people who are part of the series who are here to help bring awareness. The message to millennials is ‘its your generation, you cant ever tolerate the fact that the older generation is screwing up your planet and if the younger generation would rise up as loudly as they can tell their parents that they’re not gonna take it’ that’s the message.”
The private sector is key to the success of sustainable development and international goals to reduce global warming. That was the message of the Caring for Climate Business Forum that began December 7 at the Le Bourget COP21 Climate Generation Area. The forum fosters communication and interaction among businesses investors, NGOs, the United Nations, and government officials. The UN Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, asks companies to join in and support its broader goals.
It’s impossible to talk about global climate change without running into issues of inequality, in fact the two seem to be inescapably entangled. The concept of environmental justice emerged, in the United States, in the 60s and 70s when the disparate distribution of pollution, especially toxic waste, among already marginalized social groups drew national attention. In the 60s and 70s, the predominantly white, middle-class environmental movement tended to exclude those who were most impacted by pollution-induced asthma, toxic cancers and poisoned water supplies – namely black and brown people and people of low socioeconomic status. Civil rights and environmental movements acted in separate spheres, as if the two never overlapped. Several reports, federal actions and high profile cases later, the environmental justice movement is a movement of movements that aims to highlight the social, political and economic dimensions of how environmental harms and hazards affect people, and their interactions with the natural environment.
Scholar Michael Mascarenhas writes that environmental justice recognizes the empirical reality that “racial and ethnic minorities, low-income people, and indigenous peoples are more likely to live in close proximity to hazardous environmental facilities and that their communities continue to be the targets for the siting and growth of ‘dirty industries,’” (1).
Climate justice, by extension, is a concept that emphasizes similar unequal distributions, only now within the context of how climate change is impacting the Earth: unseasonable flooding, extreme droughts and heat waves, anomalous weather patterns, and many many other environmental harms associated with a global rise in temperature. As you can already guess, this has (and will have even greater) impacts on how we conduct agriculture, on the spread of tropical diseases, how and where we make our settlements, and on the borders (and even the future existence) of nations – and not all of us will bear those burdens the same.
The inequality inherent in the way that climate change unfolds on the ground could not be more obvious. Scholars J. Timmons Roberts and Bradley C. Parks write that “The issue of global climate change is fundamentally about injustice and inequality…” (3). Not only are historically marginalized communities most affected by climate change, but these groups contributed the least to the issue in the first place. The continent of Africa, for example, emits less than some individual countries, and is one of the lowest emitting continents in the world. Paradoxically, (unfairly), the latest IPCC reports rank Africa as the continent most vulnerable to climate change impacts!
An Oxfam report released just the other day found that the world’s richest 10 percent of the population produces half of global carbon emissions, while the poorest half of the world contribute to just 10 percent of emissions (2).
Here in Paris it’s obvious that scholarly work is trailing closely behind the activist and organizers who already have been implementing these concepts and worldviews into their work. For example, the It Takes Roots Delegation, a broad grassroots coalition of more than 50 organizations and communities most impacted by climate change, does work squarely around the concept of climate justice. The coalition includes organizations such as the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), Cooperation Jackson, the Black Mesa Navajo Nation, Southwest Workers Union, Fuerza Unida San Antonio, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Climate Justice Alliance, Just Transition Alliance, Rising Tide North America and the Southern Mine Workers Center, just to name a very few.
The sheer diversity of perspectives on climate change illustrates how complex the problem of climate change is, but also how many different methods and possibilities exist in addressing the issue and working to restore the Earth, while addressing historical injustices.
Worrying, though, is the attempt by top COP leaders to gloss over and potentially remove the rights and grievances of vulnerable populations in the final agreement that will be reached at the end of this week. Climate justice organizers are protesting because COP leaders seem to be overlooking issues of marginalized peoples in trying to come to a deal. At an evening organizer meeting I attended for the It Takes Roots delegation, Indigenous Environmental Network organizers explained how the rights of indigenous people was put into brackets in the UNFCCC document, which means that it is still up for debate and can potentially be removed. COP leaders also are considering moving the rights of indigenous people into the preamble of the text, which holds no legal and binding authority.
I’ve been following Cooperation Jackson, a group from Jackson, Mississippi who have developed a network of cooperatives as a tangible alternative to austerity capitalism and squarely in response to institutional racism within the context of unequal environmental harms and climate change. They see their work as a merge between the long legacy of the civil rights movementand the burgeoning environmental movement of the past few decades.
In a Dec 3rd interview on Yes Magazine with several Cooperation Jackson organizers, Elijah Williams says “If you understand the Black Liberation and Black Lives Matter movements, you’ll end up understanding climate justice and how all that works together.”
Jackson, Mississippi is a predominantly black city and one of the poorest cities in the country. It’s within this context that organizers have been collectively acquiring land and running cooperatively owned farms to work towards food sovereignty while integrating agro-ecological methods that work within, not against, nature. They’ve also been busy at work building worker cooperatives and sowing the seeds of the greater “solidarity economy” that they aim to construct.
One of the most important insights that I’ve gained in my time here in Paris is that power and tangible alternatives and solutions come not only from people with long titles and top security access, but also from the people below who themselves live the impacts of climate change. Who else to form the solutions to our generation’s most important issue than the people who are most impacted and cognizant of the issue themselves? We might do more to listen to the people who are most affected by global changes and who are busy at work creating better communities and ways of living already, regardless, and maybe in spite of, what COP leaders ultimately decide for the rest of humanity.
Clara B. Perez
(1). Michael Mascarenhas (2009). “Environmental Inequality and Environmental Justice” in Twenty Lessons in Environmental Sociology (eds). Kenneth A. Gould and Tammy L. Lewis. New York: Oxford University Press.
(2). Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2001. Third assessment report. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press;
—. (IPCC), 2007. Fourth assessment report. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
(3). J. Timmons Roberts and Bradley C. Parks (2007). A Climate of Injustice: Global Inequality, North-South Politics, and Climate Policy. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Among the tens of thousands of visitors descending on Paris this December for COP21, a significant cohort of those will represent what has long been a marginalized, unheard, and relatively ignored group of individuals. However, for the first time, figureheads are claiming that our youth generation will play a paramount role in the fight against climate change. So how are young people acting and engaging in Paris this year?
Yesterday we attended an event entitled “Storytelling for Global Action.” The event flyer advertised actor Robert Redford and “indigenous artists, activists and storytellers” and a discussion of shared efforts to warn the world about climate change. For those of you who don’t know who Robert Redford is, he is an American actor and director and probably your mom’s childhood crush.